The Qatari government has issued a firm defence in response to a Washington Post article last week that claimed 4,000 migrant workers are likely to die while working on 2022 World Cup sites in Doha, and that 1,200 have already lost their lives.
In a statement on Wednesday morning, the Qatar government’s communications department declared the allegations to be “completely untrue”.
It said that, as well as damaging Qatar’s reputation, the article has also damaged the newspaper’s reputation for fair and accurate reporting.
The statement, published on state news agency QNA, claimed that the Post simply took the total annual mortality figures for Indian and Nepalese migrants working in Qatar and multiplied those numbers by the years remaining between now and the 2022 World Cup, to make its bleak-sounding forecast. The calculation assumes that the death of every migrant worker in Qatar is work-related.
“In fact, after almost five million work hours on World Cup construction sites, not a single worker’s life has been lost. Not one,” the statement said.
The Washington Post article was published on May 27 and cites figures from a Guardian newspaper investigation last year that reportedly revealed that Nepalese migrant workers were dying at a rate of one every two days. The Guardian put the total Qatar death toll of workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh at 964 in 2012/13.
However, the Qatar statement gives no information on how the government calculated its ‘nil’ figure for migrant worker deaths on World Cup construction sites. Notably, the country has never publicly announced any intention to investigate the Guardian’s 2014 reports of migrant worker deaths, as recommended by law firm DLA Piper in a report commissioned by the Qatari government last year.
The Post wrote: “Human rights advocates’ worst fears about Qatar seemed to be confirmed as Qatar began building the infrastructure to host the Cup, and reports of migrant worker deaths started to pile up. The numbers, to the extent that we know them, appear startling.”
However, it adds: “It is hard to know how many of those are specifically World Cup associated. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come to Qatar each year, and there could be hundreds of deaths even without a World Cup; figures from the Indian embassy [in Qatar] show, for instance, that 200+ Indian workers died in Qatar in 2010, before the World Cup announcement.
“But the numbers could also be worse: a report by the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated 1,200 deaths so far, with up to 4,000 additional worker deaths by 2022.”
In its statement, the government said Qatar has more than one million migrant workers. “It is unfortunate that any worker should die overseas, but it is wrong to distort statistics to suggest, as the Post’s article did, that all deaths in such a large population are the result of workplace conditions.”
It also noted that the Post’s article was accompanied by a “dramatic” graphic, which purports to compare the “imagined” fatalities in Qatar with the number of lives lost in the construction of other international sports venues, including the London Olympics, where just one worker was reported to have died.
A more accurate comparison, the statement added, would have suggested that every migrant worker in the United Kingdom who died between 2005 and 2012 – whatever the job and whatever the cause of death – was killed in the construction of the 2012 London Olympics.
The statement claimed the Washington Post declined to publish Qatar’s letter of complaint sent to its editor – “but while the Post may not deem its online articles to be worthy of rebuttal, enormous damage has been done to Qatar’s image and reputation by [article’s] publication.”
It concluded: “In our view, the misinformation in the article has damaged more than the image of Qatar; we believe it has also damaged the Post’s reputation for fair and accurate reporting.
“With that in mind, we have requested an immediate retraction of the article by the Washington Post and a correction of the misinformation it contains.”
The Washington Post has been contacted for a response.
The news comes amid growing controversy over Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup. On Tuesday night, FIFA chairman Sepp Blatter succumbed to pressure to resign from his post in the face of ongoing allegations of corruption within the organisation.
Reuters reported on Wednesday morning that he is under investigation by US prosecutors and the FBI.